You are your partner are struggling. You don’t understand what is happening or why you keep getting stuck, having seemingly the same fight over and over. You love each other, but your relationship isn’t flowing. You want to learn how to improve communication skills so you can solve this problem. You can learn about attachment types and apply this knowledge with a few more tools and practice.
The three steps
- Learn about attachment and your specific attachment style or attachment type
- Learn the language of attachment
- Practice the language of attachment with your partner
We know what attachment theory is. We know it indicates how we defend against being vulnerable in our meaningful relationships.
Here is a brief definition of attachment types. To read more deeply on attachment styles, read my article, Grow Your Relationship With An Attachment Style Quiz.
- Anxious Attachment Types tend to worry about being loved back and are preoccupied with their relationships.
- Avoidant Attachment Types tend to think intimacy equals a loss of freedom or independence and consequently feel unsafe with too much closeness.
- Secure Attachment Types are comfortable with intimacy and tend to create safe and connected relationships with less underlying fear driving their behaviors.
Here are a few questions you might find on an attachment quiz. They are revealing, and you will quickly understand the different ways a person may react in a relationship.
- Do you get nervous when your partner gets too close?
- Do you feel that you cannot get it right with your partner, no matter what you do?
- Do you worry your partner will stop loving you?
- Are you afraid that if you show your feelings to your partner, they will not love you?
- Are you comfortable calming your partner down when they are upset?
- Do you feel safe, connected, and secure in your relationship?
These kinds of questions indicate your attachment type or style, how you relate to a romantic partner – how you may not trust closeness, push it away, react with abandonment fears or have another response that shows you do not feel entirely safe, connected, and secure in your relationship.
But what is attachment language exactly? Attachment language is how we communicate our deep emotional needs and fears to our partner.
- When you are this close to me, I feel scared and vulnerable.
- When you don’t call, I get fearful you have stopped loving me.
- If I show you my true self, I am afraid you will be repulsed by what you see.
How do attachment theory and attachment language help us with our relationships? How do we communicate to get past our habitual patterns and speak to what is genuinely emotionally there?
Georgette and Jean
Imagine a couple. Georgette and Jean. Georgette gets upset quickly. She notices when Jean is distant or grumpy or critical. She wonders if she made a mistake. Maybe he isn’t the one.
Jean, on the other hand, is oblivious. But he does notice that Georgette gets upset easily. Why is she always upset? He loves her. He is there. Sometimes she drives him crazy, and he just has to get away from her. He wishes she would just calm down and stop making a big deal about so many things.
These two need to have a different conversation than their usual one – the conversation where Jean is grumpy and Georgette asks him what is wrong, and he says nothing, and she gets upset and says there must be something wrong. And he leaves the house because he feels frustrated and wants some space.
In the WeConcile program, we call this new conversation Story Tending. Each partner learns to facilitate the other person’s feelings. Open-hearted curiosity is the key.
We’ll start with Jean helping Georgette talk about her experience. You will be able to see them learning how to improve their communication skills and practicing them.
Georgette: I need to talk to you about how I am feeling.
Jean: Okay, I’m happy to listen.
Georgette: I feel as if you have been grumpy and upset with me.
Jean: You feel as if I have been grumpy and upset with you. Can you tell me more about that? It sounds as if you might be scared.
Georgette: I am scared. I am frightened that you might leave me. I am afraid of being abandoned. Deep down, I am terrified of losing you.
Jean: You are feeling frightened of me leaving you. Can you tell me more about that?
Georgette: Yes, you are so important to me. I don’t know what I would do if I lost you. That is why I get so upset. Deep down, I’m terrified.
Jean: I didn’t know you felt like that. I glad you are sharing this with me. It makes me see the vulnerable part of you instead of the part that I feel like I can never please.
Now we’ll reverse roles and have Jean talk about his feelings with Georgette. In real life, you would generally do NOT have these conversations back to back.
Jean: I need to talk to you about something.
Georgette: Okay, I’m happy to listen.
Jean: When you get upset, I feel overwhelmed. I feel as if nothing I do is good enough or right. I just want to get away from that feeling.
Georgette: When I get upset, you feel overwhelmed, and as if nothing you do is good enough or right, and you want to get away from that feeling. Is that right?
Jean: Yes, that is it. I really struggle when you get emotional. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to calm you down, and I feel like you are accusing me.
Georgette: When I am emotional, you don’t know what to do or how to calm me down, and it feels as if I am accusing you… It sounds as if it is scary for you.
Jean: It is scary. I love you, but I don’t feel equipped to deal with this part of you. I feel like I’m a failure in this area.
Georgette: You get scared when I am upset because you don’t feel equipped to deal with this part of me, and you feel like a failure in this area… I didn’t know this. I’m so happy you are telling me. I didn’t know you felt that way. It feels so much better to talk about it like this than to get caught in a tangle.
The above conversations are condensed and simplified, but they give you an understanding of how we use attachment language (revealing our deep underlying vulnerabilities) to communicate, understand ourselves, and our partners better and change how we act towards each other.
Attachment type quiz
What are Georgette’s and Jean’s attachment types? Most likely, Georgette’s attachment type is anxious and Jean’s is avoidant. What is yours?
Start by taking an attachment type or style quiz. As you answer the questions, think about what you are afraid of. Being abandoned. Getting too close, showing your feelings, etc. Talking about your attachment styles and being curious about how they are impacting you and your relationship is a significant step to take.
There are a lot of attachment quizzes out there. This quiz is pretty simple.
You may identify with more than one attachment type.
Understanding attachment theory can help you improve your relationship. But we don’t learn just by understanding. Rewiring required that you have new experiences. New experiences mean you can’t just read and understand. You have to practice to create new neuropathways and new ways of relating. Choose to learn a new way of communicating and practice so you can rewire and create a more securely attached relationship with your partner.
- Get a therapist
- Try WeConcile
- Take a relationship workshop
Know that we can and do change our attachment types or styles. The goal is to build a secure attachment with your partner. With secure attachment, those more profound attachment-related fears have been healed. Your relationship feels more comfortable, safer, and easier. You have more energy with which to be a team and tackle other aspects of your lives.